ROBIN WILLIAMS, 62, is a property assessor for a large banking institute. He is married to Felicity, a caterer, and they live in Grassy Park, Cape Town.
Robin Williams found hope and healing while working on a hospital in Madagascar
‘I always wanted to do some kind of poverty-relief work but I went through the wars for a while in my life, including a horrendous four-year divorce which I tried hard to avoid. I felt challenged in every way, and written off by many I counted as friends.
I went through a healing period, then an opportunity came up in my church to go with a medical and building team to a hospital in Madagascar. It felt like the right time. I got my vaccinations sorted and flew over with a recce team. It was the first time I’d left South African shores!
Madagascar is the tenth poorest country in the world and I was blown away by its poverty. Due to malnutrition, most Madagascans only came up to my shoulder – and I’ve always thought I’m small! About 75% of people live in mud huts or huge metal drums. Temperatures are often in the forties, and few people have anything like a fridge.
Our destination was Antanimalandy Hospital in Mahajanga, a coastal town 14 hours from the airport by bus. It was very clean, but very outdated: South Africa is ahead by leaps and bounds!
In Madagascar, if you stay in hospital, someone has to go with you to do your washing, cooking and general care. They then sleep in shacks outside or on mats under trees. When the monsoons come, they cram into the metal drums, or sleep under the patient’s bed. We felt the biggest building need was for canteens and accommodation for these families, as well as a boundary wall to stop people, dogs and other animals using the hospital as a shortcut!
Six months later, in July 2012 we went back as a team of about 16, mostly medics, who helped inside the hospital, and a building team, which I led. My church paid for the building materials, and we all paid for our own airfares and accommodation – about R13,000 each. We worked at the hospital for three weeks, training 20 young locals daily. By the time we left, we’d done double the amount of work planned, and the locals could have qualified as operator bricklayers! Our aim was to empower them to do things themselves: I’ve been back twice since that visit and have been very encouraged to see all the work that they’ve achieved all over the hospital.
Through this process I’ve come to believe that sometimes God allows us to go through hurts and disappointments in life to build us up stronger, and to use us to show His love to the world. When life is hard, we’re tempted to believe we’ve lost out, but we need to ignore that feeling. Life might have thrown me a curve ball, but I ended up being part of a team that worked for others. It feels as if I was raised up from the ashes, and given hope and a purpose.’